The Hannibal volleyball team made a statement Tuesday night with a gutsy season-opening three-set victory at Payson Seymour, the reigning Illinois Class 1A champion.

The Hannibal volleyball team would like everyone to know it's for real. 

The Lady Pirates made a statement Tuesday night with a gutsy season-opening three-set victory at Payson Seymour, the reigning Illinois Class 1A champion.

Hannibal dropped the first set 25-22 but refused to let that remain the narrative. The visitors rallied, fending off the Lady Indians 25-23 in Game 2 before a 25-20 triumph in the final game.

“We just wanted to start the year strong, and I think that's exactly what we did,” Hannibal senior Kyler Rademan said. “Our first match this season was better than our last match last season. Over the summer, we prepared for this level of play. It's finally paying off.”

Riley Epperson slammed home kills for Payson's last three points of the first set and finished with 16 for the match to lead both sides.

The Lady Pirates relied upon a balanced approach to step up to the fierce challenge.

Claire Thomas, Peyton Utterback and Abby Baumann paced Hannibal with five kills a piece as part of an offensive attack that featured three or more kills from all six starters and 11 assists each from Rademan and Kaylee Falconer. 

Maddie Janes came up with 14 digs in the match to lead the Hannibal defense, which tightened during the final two sets. Payton Frick made 12 digs off the bench, while libero Haley Ballinger had 11 and Falconer 10. Baumann and Rademan both finished with nine.

The combined efforts from top to bottom of the roster helped the Lady Pirates secure their first win over Payson since 2015. 

“I'm kind of at a loss for words,” Hannibal coach Kelsey Whitley said. “That's the type of volleyball that I live and die for. That's the type of volleyball I want them to live and die for. That's postseason volleyball.” 

Hannibal was clicking on all cylinders during an 11-2 run in the middle of Game 3 to extend its lead to as many as eight.

Rademan guided a perfectly-placed ball over the net to the wide-open back right corner to help establish momentum. She set up Thomas, Falconer and Utterback for kills to keep the points coming. 

Frick lasered back-to-back aces to make it 19-13. The level of enthusiasm displayed by the Lady Pirates and their traveling fan base reached a high point.

“Payton's serves have gotten really good,” Rademan said. “That's big for momentum. She gets an ace and our team just goes crazy.” 

Utterback provided a kill to put Hannibal ahead 21-13. 

In key moments of the match, Utterback and Thomas were central components of the Hannibal offense out of the middle. 

“This was the best game we've played with our middles,” Rademan said of her career with the varsity. “From the getgo, we're already connecting and that's going to be huge.”

Payson closed its deficit to 22-18 but was unable to get any closer.

The Lady Pirates escaped Adams County just in time.

Hannibal volleyball guts out win over Payson Seymour in its season opener. Lady Pirates drop first set, win the next two, taking third game 25-20.

— Courier-Post Sports (@HCP_Sports) September 5, 2018

“If that final game would have been to 30, we might've got 'em, but we didn't turn it on quick enough,” said Payson coach Teresa Loos-Tedrow, whose team falls to 7-4 on the year. “Give it up to Hannibal. I felt like we got them out of system a lot, but they kept scrapping and coming right back at us.”

Hannibal surged to a 10-7 lead in Game 1 before the Lady Indians responded to score the next four points en route to taking the set despite five missed serves.

The Lady Pirates pulled to within 24-22, but Epperson delivered an emphatic kill for Payson to win the set on the next play. 

“For her to step out as a senior leader and show what she's got, it's awesome,” Loos-Tedrow said of Epperson. “She's learning she has to be the one, and that's a lot of pressure. Her team is counting on her, and she is stepping up.”

Falconer tipped the ball to the corner to put Hannibal up 15-14 in Game 2, securing a lead Hannibal kept the rest of the set. The junior later caught Payson off guard with a shallow ace to make it 20-17. 

Epperson pulled the Lady Indians to within 24-23.

They were unable to return the ball on the next play as the Lady Pirates forced the rubber game.

Hannibal wins second set 25-23 to keep the match alive.

— Courier-Post Sports (@HCP_Sports) September 5, 2018

Hannibal is scheduled to play at Bowling Green on Thursday before opening North Central Missouri Conference play Saturday against Marshall at Korf Gymnasium. 

The Lady Pirates passed their first test, with many more to come. 

“We have so much versatility on our court and so many girls who can put the ball away,” Whitley said. “I feel like we're going to be a force to be reckoned with.”